When Florida governor Rick Scott signed House Bill 7069 into law, he did so at a private school. The symbolism was notable to critics, who say the new law is an attack on public school education.
“It’s really a shift to create a parallel, shadow school system that is not accountable to the public,” said Robert Runcie, superintendent of the Broward County Public School District.
HB-7069 will indeed shift millions of taxpayer dollars from public schools to charter schools, which are public but usually owned by private companies.
“There’s no accountability, so you effectively are moving public dollars into the private space,” Runcie said.
The law also restricts how school districts can use federal dollars earmarked for the most economically disadvantaged schools.
“It chokes the utilization of our own federal money, particularly title one dollars that we have used strategically, district-wide, to improve the performance of the most fragile, academically fragile, lowest socio-economic schools in Miami-Dade,” explained Miami-Dade Public Schools superintendent Alberto Carvalho.
That’s why Broward field a lawsuit against the state of Florida, a lawsuit which Miami-Dade and several other districts around the state have joined.
“We’re going to pursue legal means to see if we can challenge some of those provisions, in the meantime we’re going to continue to work with our school principals, our teachers, we’re going to stay focused on doing what we know works,” Runcie said.
That’s the thing, staying focused on maintaining and building on last year’s successes, which each superintendent says will be a challenge because of HB-7069’s restrictions.
Broward went from 10 “F” rated schools to just two, dramatically raised its graduation rate and its number of “A” and “B” rated schools. Miami-Dade now has zero “F” schools, a crowning achievement.
“Knowing where we were 10 years ago, knowing where we are today, the rate of evolution, the rate of improvement, being considered today the highest performing urban district in the country, then having to fight and beg for fair funding or policies that empower our teachers, empower our kids, and empower our community, I think that’s shameful,” Carvalho said.
“This is a time when the revenues in the state are at a record high, we should be investing more in public education,” Runcie added.
The superintendents are vowing to keep funding cuts out of the classroom.
“I think we’re entering dangerous territory,” Carvalho said, pointing out that his district received a huge amount of grant money from private sources and corporate contributions. “So we believe corporate investment has to a certain extent mitigated the impact of HB-7069, but that’s a short-term solution that cannot be relied upon for the long haul.”
As it stands now, per-pupil spending in Florida is about $7,300. Compare that to the national average, which is over $11,000. It puts Florida in the bottom five or six states in the nation.
“I’m amazed that we’re able to accomplish the things that we have done here in Broward and districts throughout Florida, but it’s not a sustainable situation, we’ve got to get serious about investing in human capital and the future of our children,” Runcie said.
In the near future, the task is staying on task, no matter what Tallahassee throws at South Florida.